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Steal These Looks

From the world’s only living emperor to film-maker Mr Akira Kurosawa, MR PORTER shows you how these shoguns of style do it

  • From left: director Mr Akira Kurosawa and the actor Mr Toshiro Mifune in Venice, 1960 Archivio Cameraphoto Epoche/ Getty Images

Is it the diet, and the resulting tendency for Japanese men to be slim, and so look neat in their clothes? Or is it more complicated – something to do with the perspective on Western dress that Japan’s unique culture gives to its men? Or could it simply be that their nation’s famous attention to detail results in more guys getting it right more of the time? Who knows? What we do know is that over the years Japan has produced a roll call of style icons, from which we’ve picked eight to celebrate here.

These men cover the gamut of Japanese culture and history, ranging from the fictional porcine fighter pilot Porco Rosso, a creation of the revered animators Studio Ghibli, to rag-trade celebrity Mr Motofumi “Poggy” Kogi, together with a footballer and the world’s only emperor. Each has or had such an individual approach to dressing that, aside from the land of their birth, the only thing that unifies these guys is how good they look.

Mr Motofumi “Poggy” Kogi

  • Mr Kogi at the Pitti Uomo trade show, Florence, June 2014 Yu Fujiwara

Buyer for Japanese retailer United Arrows and director of its diffusion line, United Arrows & Sons, Mr Kogi possesses a sense of style that’s as versatile as a Swiss Army knife. One moment he’s an immaculate new gent in a custom-made blue suit, the next he’s on-trend in a vintage denim trucker jacket and sweatpants. Either way, a hat is an important element in almost all of Mr Kogi’s outfits, whether he’s wearing one with an M-65 field jacket customised with Louis Vuitton patches, or with a three-piece suit. The quality that defines his outfits, regardless of their formality, is a hip-hop attitude. No wonder he retains such affection for Stüssy clothes.

Mr Ryuichi Sakamoto

  • Mr Sakamoto in the Teatro Verdi, Florence, October 2011 Riccardo Cavallari

Mr Sakamoto, who’s 62, is a musician, a composer and a record producer. He became famous as a member of the Japanese electronica band Yellow Magic Orchestra, while also pursuing a solo career – seek out “Riot in Lagos” from his 1980 album B-2 Unit. His sartorial style is defined by his impressive head of floppy silver hair, the monochrome palette of his wardrobe and his taste for sophisticated contemporary tailoring. Mr Sakamoto, who lives in Tokyo and New York, dresses like the mature, international creative that he is, and provides a blueprint that ad guys, architects and men in other creative industries would do very well to follow. Style has directly influenced Mr Sakamoto’s music over the years, and in 2013 he composed “Music for Fashion Museum”, a piece for Japanese department store Isetan.

His Imperial Majesty the Emperor Akihito

  • His Imperial Majesty the Emperor Akihito in Venice, 1953 Archivio Cameraphoto Epoche/ Getty Images

Japan’s 80-year-old emperor has always been elegant. Shots of him as a young man portray a Japanese version of Mad Men’s Don Draper, but with a more sophisticated taste in pocket squares. Back then he wore Ivy-influenced single-breasted suits, but he’s now more usually seen in double-breasted lounge suits, and in supremely elegant morning dress. The wide cut of his trousers has made him a poster boy for men who cleave to the idea that the zenith of masculine style was in the 1930s, but his dimpled ties are even more exemplary. The world’s only emperor is also the world’s best-dressed head of state; men who wish to emulate him will want to know that his suits are tailored by Kinn in Japan, and Henry Poole in London.

Mr Hidetoshi Nakata

  • Mr Nakata in a studio shot originally for MR PORTER, May 2012 Angelo Pennetta/ Trunk Archive 

Mr Nakata came to global attention as a flair midfielder at the World Cups in France in 1998, Japan in 2002 and in Germany in 2006. He played in Italy's stylish Serie A for seven years before moving to the markedly less fashionable Bolton Wanderers under the uncompromising coach Mr Sam Allardyce. Mr Nakata quit after a year there, and retired from the game aged 29. Since then he has stepped up his interest in menswear. He's a regular on the front row at fashion shows around the world and modelled for Calvin Klein in 2010. Japan's most famous footballer favours slim tailoring, eye-catching hairstyles and colours, and dark sunglasses.

Mr Akira Kurosawa

  • Mr Kurosawa in Milan, 1976 Adriano Alecchi/ Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images

The pre-eminent Japanese film director made 30 films in his 57-year career, the most famous of which is 1954’s Seven Samurai. While his work is widely acclaimed, his inspirational style is less well known. As a film-maker he had to dress up on occasion, and he did this in admirable soft-shouldered suits, which he frequently wore with sunglasses. However, it’s the clothes that he wore while working that deserve our attention. He was a committed hat wearer (perhaps because he lost his hair relatively young), but eschewed trilbies in favour of cotton bucket hats, tweed flat caps and faded denim sailor’s caps. There is a remarkable hint of hip-hop style about his appearance, particularly in a shot of him taken on the set of Yojimbo (1961), in which he’s wearing a suede bomber jacket, black sunglasses and a bucket hat. It’s a look LL Cool J would emulate 30 years later.

Mr Leonard Foujita

  • Mr Foujita painting in his studio, date unknown Raymond Prunin/ Gamma Rapho

The phenomenon of Japanese people being unnervingly quick to discover the latest scenes in Western cities is not new. As a 27-year-old art graduate, Mr Foujita, a painter, moved from Tokyo to France in 1913. In Montparnasse in Paris he met Messrs Amedeo Modigliani and Fernand Léger, befriended Mr Pablo Picasso and was taught to dance by Ms Isadora Duncan. Mr Foujita’s appearance was as notable as the levels of success he quickly enjoyed, and was defined by his severe haircut and his round spectacles. He was photographed painting wearing loose-fitting cords, a checked shirt and a blouson jacket, and on another occasion in a hoop-striped sleeveless T-shirt, baggy trousers and flip-flops (bear in mind this was in 1926). However, the most striking shot has him with a large hoop earring in each ear and wearing a vividly printed shirt and wide tie so bold that the combination would have caused a stir on London’s Carnaby Street 50 years later.

Porco Rosso

  • A film still of Porco Rosso © 1992 Nibariki – GNN. Distributed by STUDIOCANAL LIMITED

The lead character in the eponymous animated 1992 film, Porco Rosso, whose name means “red pig” in Italian, is an ex-WWI fighter pilot who has been turned into a pig and reduced to working as a bounty hunter. In the film the character’s wardrobe seems to owe something to the rumpled style of Mr Humphrey Bogart, particularly in Tokyo Joe. Over the course of the film Porco Rosso wears a Burberry-inspired trench coat with a long white scarf tossed over the shoulder, a cream linen suit and the kind of khaki trousers that American pilots wore in WWII. Despite Porco Rosso’s unathletic figure, it’s a combination of looks that would today form the basis of an exemplary vacation wardrobe.

Mr Toshiro Mifune

  • Mr Mifune at the 22nd International Film Festival, Venice, 1961 Photo Graziano Arici/ Eyevine

This iconic Japanese actor projected his brooding, passionate character across almost 170 films, including 16 directed by Mr Kurosawa. Many of his roles called for him to don the robes and top-knotted hairstyle of the samurai, but the Western outfits that he wore on-screen (in films such as 1949’s Nora Inu) and in his own time are the ones that we wish we could emulate. There’s a wonderful shot of Mr Mifune – fully bearded, his long hair slicked back, and wearing a slim V-neck sweater over a white polo shirt – that’s a compelling reason to abandon one’s shaving routine; and he looked equally modern in a black rollneck sweater in his 1947 film debut, Snow Trail. The keys to his sartorial success were his film-star looks, imposing physique, incandescent charisma – and the fact that whether he was in a white T-shirt or a white summer suit, he looked entirely at ease.